New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art - A Leader No More?
Image Courtesy: Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York

New York's Metropolitan Museum of Art - A Leader No More?

Author: Daniel Socolow on May 9, 2017

Museums around the country, indeed, in many other parts of the world, charge visitors to see their collections. Many depend totally or importantly on entry ticket revenue to keep their doors open.

Some museums, especially in America, enjoy mixed revenues from endowments, fund raising and door receipts. And, increasingly, almost all such institutions not only charge very significant sums for entry tickets, but regularly and consistently raise the costs of their tickets. Indeed, entry tickets at most museums in America, and New York specifically, are very expensive by any standard. In New York, for example, most tickets cost between $20 and $25 per person, per visit.

Whatever be the general practice, it has always been sad that both public and private museums require any entry fee at all of those who seek to view their riches. The result of such practice, of course, is to limit access to the world and country’s most precious treasurers to the wealthy. How often does one see or hear of people of lesser means, especially of children of lesser means, filling the halls of our museums?

The fact is that American museums are almost entirely for the elite only.

It is in this context, nationally and abroad, that the Metropolitan Museum of New York, one of the greatest museums in the world with one of the most extraordinarily rich collections anywhere, has stood alone for as far back as one can remember, consistently adhering to a radically different modus operandi. At the Met, visitors have always paid only what they could or wanted to pay. With an endowment of $2.3 billion, the Met could and did open its doors to all. And, with such a policy, the Met broke ranks with almost every other museum and appropriately shared its collections and exhibits with all interested persons, regardless of their means.

Sadly, the Met has now decided to reverse its long-standing policy and require $25 admission of all non New York residents who seek to visit. Ostensibly, they can no longer operated on voluntary contributions, even with their enormous endowment.

There has been a great deal of upheaval recently at the Met, including firing its president, spending a fortune on its logo, and rumors of board conflict. Whatever the cause, one has to wonder why the Met took this most unfortunate decision at this time, after a long and proud history of breaking the mold. It is both surprising and suspicious that a previously well-run institution could no longer keeps its doors open with an enormous endowment and without mandating fixed pricing for its visitors.

But, charging a fixed and large sum of Museum visitors is a new policy at the Met and a very sad one indeed. Sad even more because this great institution no longer stands as a leader and example in the museum world.

Daniel Socolow
Daniel Socolow: President, Socolow Group. Former Director of the MacArthur Fellows Program, President of the American University of Paris, Vice President of Spelman College. BA, MA, Ph.D.

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